San Antonio Spurs: Looking back at 2016’s Christmas Festivities
By Dylan Carter
Though they won’t be lacing up for Christmas in 2018, the San Antonio Spurs took full advantage of their opportunities the last time they played during the Holiday.
For the second consecutive Christmas, the San Antonio Spurs will not participate in the NBA’s five-game holiday lineup. In spite of the franchise’s storied history and competitive nature, the league’s schedule-makers opted to go in a different direction.
Six teams — Utah, Portland, Golden State, Los Angeles, Oklahoma City and Houston — are set to represent the Western Conference for Noel. Up to this point in the season, San Antonio has defeated five of those six teams and will meet with Paul George and the Thunder for the first time on Jan. 10.
Generally, the Spurs put their best foot forward in high-stakes competition like Christmas Day matchups. A lot has changed since the last time they had a chance to play during the holiday, but the sentiment remains true.
The Spurs took care of business during Christmas of 2016, executing a 119-100 rout of the Chicago Bulls. Of the 13 players to log minutes in the meeting, only five remain in the Alamo City (Pau Gasol, LaMarcus Aldridge, Dejounte Murray, Patty Mills and Davis Bertans) after the 2018 offseason saw tremendous change in the San Antonio locker room.
In one of his best performances of the regular season, Aldridge scored 33 points on 15-of-20 shooting along with nine boards and an assist. Meanwhile, a ripe and intensified Kawhi Leonard poured in 25 points, 10 rebounds, 5 dimes and three steals in the contest. His all-around performance surged San Antonio past one of the more puzzling teams in recent memory.
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The trio of Jimmy Butler, Rajon Rondo and Dwyane Wade in Chicago felt like an Illinoisan fever dream with three extremely talented guards coming together to form a squad of oddities. Wade, who at this point was very familiar with the Spurs, scored a team-high 24 points along with six assists and two steals in the Christmas showdown. During his previous free agency, there was talk of Wade joining the Spurs, but the legendary slasher opted to return to his hometown in his first venture outside of Miami.
As a team, the Spurs shot 50 percent from behind the arc and managed to force 14 turnovers leading to 14 points in transition. This unit was adept at forcing opponents into mishandling the ball and pushing the tempo in transition, a skill set that would greatly help the 2018 Spurs to continue improving their play.
Now two years removed from their last Christmas outing, the Spurs can take this time to look back at teams past the learn from them. Though they were missing legend Tim Duncan in his first year of retirement, San Antonio managed to move on and sustain a superb level of basketball excellence. Team-based ball was the primary focus, as shown by their 30 assists in the contest.
This should be the standard for the Spurs under the regime of Gregg Popovich. If things keep trending upward, San Antonio can truly emerge as a contender once more.